Saturday, January 2nd 2016
Public Diplomacy practitioners command a repertoire of programs that can be brought to bear on an insurgency – public affairs, media relations, broadcasting, social media, narrative, exchanges, education, media and journalism training, English teaching, and cultural preservation among them. Managing these activities that are a significant part of the “information” element of national power is no easy challenge, so much so that a professional focus on “programs” easily crowds out strategy, adaptation, and innovation.
Think what you may about the use or misuse of Public Diplomacy in Iraq and Afghanistan, Public Diplomacy will again be called to join counter-insurgency efforts. The time to think about it is now, not later.
Marine Corps Second Lieutenant Ben Kallas has usefully reframed the coming challenges to the international order by using the concept of “Fourth Generation Warfare” (4GW), focusing on how the internet empowers insurgents and alters the perceptions and psychology of an opposing nation’s people, opinion leaders, and decision makers. His article, “Counterinsurgency Considerations for the Information Age,” appeared (behind a paywall, alas) in the November, 2015, issue of Marine Corps Gazette.
Lieutenant Kallas opened the article with a brief history. The first generation of warfare was “tactics associated with the smoothbore musket.” The second was “increased lethality of automatic weapons and artillery during World War I.” The third generation was “maneuver rather than attrition.” Fourth generation thinking began in 1989. Here are some bullet points from Lieutenant Kallas’s article:
- . . . a new generation of warfare should create a highly dispersed, adaptable opponent that evades enemy forces but specifically targets its enemy’s will to fight.
- . . . 4GW actors would harness the unprecedented interconnectedness and complexity of modern societies to completely bypass the opposing military and convince their opponent’s political decision makers that victory would not be worth the social, economic, and political costs of fighting.
- While this description does not fit the world’s leading militaries, it does describe groups like al-Qaeda and networked insurgencies in countries like Iraq and Pakistan.
- Numerous authors have refined the theory since 1989. For instance, . . . insurgencies like the first Palestinian intifada had already used 4GW tactics . . .
- . . . the degree of violence in a conflict now matters far less than how that violence is perceived around the world.
- . . . David Kilcullen argues that “given pervasive media presence and near-instantaneous exploitation of all combat action, counterinsurgency may now be 100% political.”
- Col Pat Phelan, Irish Defence Forces, points out that while there are precedents for almost every aspect of 4GW—like guerrilla tactics and waging psychological warfare—the degree to which insurgents can communicate with the opposing population and with one another is a game-changing development in warfare.
4GW in Practice
- Most conflicts that involve Western democracies are not “necessary” in the sense that the nation is fighting for its survival or territorial integrity. As a result, public support for the conflict is not guaranteed, and our enemies have identified public opinion as liberal democracies’ critical vulnerability.
- If insurgents effectively manipulate information to demoralize the opposing population, they can negate liberal democracies’ military strength by undermining politicians’ will to fight.
- Until a few decades ago, people were only vaguely aware of violence abroad unless they witnessed it firsthand; that is no longer the case since images of dying soldiers and civilians are readily available via the Internet, news media, and cell phones. Thus, casualties now carry far more weight from a psychological standpoint.
- Even if civilians on the homefront support the cause behind a conflict, they feel uncomfortable when they see the human cost of warfare—including the cost to the opposing side’s civilians.
- Their level of discomfort largely depends upon how skillfully the opposing side frames those casualties as indiscriminate and unnecessary.
- Indeed, information technology makes it quite difficult for the leaders of liberal democracies to control information and shape public opinion.
- The insurgent “relishes the fact that we rightly cherish and protect both our freedom of speech and an adversarial media as central tenets of one of our most important freedoms, because it aids him immensely in pursuing his strategic goals.”
- Western elites cannot restrict information since direct media censorship is anathema to free societies, so our enemies tailor their tactics and media messages accordingly.
- . . . insurgents in post-invasion Iraq used the Internet to expand their audience once hostage taking became commonplace. They posted videos and photos of their hostages online and sent the information to major news outlets to ensure international media coverage, thereby leveraging the sympathy of a massive global audience. They forced military contractors, nongovernmental organizations, and even Philippine soldiers to withdraw from Iraq in order to save hostages.
- The targeted organizations had to comply given the global public pressure to meet the insurgents’ demands. These tactics would never have succeeded without modern media; imagine trying to do this during World War II or the Boer War.
- Today insurgents can, in true 4GW fashion, leverage the power of information to achieve victory without firing a shot.
- Perhaps the most notable aspect of 4GW insurgencies is their ability to decentralize their operational structure. . . . it is difficult for counterinsurgents to unravel an organization with a highly ambiguous organizational structure.
- Information technology now allows those insurgents to learn about developments and innovations around the world extremely quickly—a process called “open-source warfare,” analogous to the model used to build Wikipedia.
- For instance, the highly decentralized groups within the Iraqi insurgency were still able to learn, adapt, and coordinate so quickly that David Kilcullen described the insurgents as a “self-synchronizing swarm.” The “leaders” of such networks only merit the title insofar as they provide inspiration to the cells that follow them; often no direct connections exist between the leader and the led.
- Al-Qaeda is arguably the model 4GW insurgency. It targets its opponents in the West through psychological warfare by attacking symbolic or political targets to attain maximum media coverage.
- Rather than occupying territory, it works through other groups to acquire safe havens from which to plan and execute operations.
- The group has also demonstrated that decentralized insurgency can thrive on a global scale. If a group in the Sahara can communicate with Iraqi or Syrian insurgents via chat rooms or cell phones, they can fight for the same cause. Direct communications may not even be necessary; mere inspiration can be enough.
- As a result, removing individuals or even an entire insurgency from the network has little or no impact on the others’ ability to operate.
- By leveraging information technology to unite a network of cells and sympathetic insurgencies in numerous countries through a common ideology, it has created a resilient network across a global battlefield.
- In low-intensity conflict, seemingly small incidents can have a disproportionately large impact. Here the perception of violence is far more important than the actual destruction of enemy forces and equipment; it is also the type of conflict in which 4GW actors thrive.
- The U.S. military is largely configured to win conventional wars, so it allocates the vast majority of its resources toward winning tactical engagements through “a warfighting doctrine based on rapid, flexible, opportunistic maneuver.” 4GW insurgents, on the other hand, do not care about winning engagements so long as collateral damage and the occasional American casualty cause our public to turn against the war and withdraw the troops.
- Our military won every major engagement in Vietnam but still lost the war because public support collapsed. Today our opponents may not even engage our forces. Instead they will create enough carnage—even against their own civilians, in the case of Iraq—to convince the American public the conflict is simply not worthwhile.
Lessons for Small Unit Leaders
- Small unit leaders . . . must consider the broader context of their actions. Preventing the creation—or even the perception—of collateral damage and unnecessary violence is of strategic importance in today’s counterinsurgency operations.
- . . . we can and should establish positive relationships with local and international reporters in order to influence public perception of events on the ground. Otherwise our enemy will dominate the international media narrative.
- . . . education, along with the prudent use of force and an active media presence, will position us to outwit and eventually beat fourth-generation adversaries at their own game.